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5 tips to recruit user research participants that represent the real world

Whether you’re running focus groups for your pricing strategy or conducting usability testing for a new product, user interviews are one of the most effective research methods to get the needle-moving insights you need. But to discover meaningful data that helps you reach your goals, you need to connect with high-quality participants. This article shares five tips to help you optimize your recruiting efforts and find the right people for any type of research study.

Last updated

20 Feb 2024

Reading time

6 min



When recruiting participants for your research study, follow these tips to help you get the best results and create a positive experience for everyone involved:

  1. Define your research goals: clearly outline the question(s) you’re trying to answer, as this will inform the criteria for your interviewees

  2. Conduct virtual user interviews: remove barriers to entry, reduce effort for your participants, and widen your participant pool with online research interviews

  3. Use screener surveys: combine the participant criteria you’ve outlined above with additional screener questions to find your ideal match

  4. Look for a wide range of inputs: prioritize recruiting from a diverse candidate pool to reveal insights you might otherwise miss

  5. Offer incentives to increase participation: if you’re struggling to get the high-quality responses you’re looking for, consider providing compensation

Some benefits of inclusive research are unexpected insights, increased total addressable market (TAM), and more enjoyable user experiences.

How to find the perfect participants for your next user research project

From usability testing to market research, hone your user research recruiting strategy with these five tips to find the best people for your study.

1. Define your research goals to identify the right participants

As with most things in life, the ‘perfect’ research participant is subjective. The ideal respondent for Study A might be the wrong type of user for Study B, because the studies have totally different objectives.

Mapping out your research goals is crucial to defining your target audience. Knowing the questions you’re trying to answer (such as “How do Spanish-speaking marketers use our product?”) will clarify who the ‘right participants’ for your research study are (i.e. Spanish-speaking marketers). 

Here are some examples of what the right user research participants might look like depending on your goals:


Ideal participants

Learn how people engage with your new product or feature's UX

Members of your ideal customer profile (ICP) who have never used your product before

Enter a new market

People who work in the target industry or sector in those countries

Appeal to upmarket audience

Decision-makers at enterprise companies

Understand pain points

Existing users

Develop buyer personas

People with relevant job titles or roles in specific industries

Once you’ve identified what you’re trying to achieve and what data you need to do so, use these criteria to inform who you need to talk to for your user interviews.

2. Go global by going virtual

The user research days of yore frequently involved making participants trek to an in-person research session where the best they could hope for was a lukewarm cup of coffee. 

This approach has a number of disadvantages for everyone involved:

  • It takes time and effort for participants to attend, which impacts who is willing (and able) to join

  • It’s not very accessible, as it excludes people who can’t make that small window of availability (like parents, caretakers, and people with fixed working hours), people who can’t or don’t want to travel, and anyone affected by physical limitations of the space (for example, if the building isn’t wheelchair accessible)

  • It limits the insights you get to local perspectives only, meaning your results may reflect specific demographics or biases and not be very representative 

Virtual user interview tools like Hotjar Engage (oh hello 👋) let you connect with willing UX research participants from all over the world, enabling you to conduct user interviews from anywhere, with anyone. Moving your interviews online also widens your potential participant pool by

  • Giving participants greater flexibility to join at their preferred times and from familiar locations

  • Expanding your research to other places and people you couldn’t otherwise reach

  • Making the research process more comfortable and convenient by empowering interviewees to take part in the way that suits them best

Engage is good for us because we have clients from different countries. Some regions are very difficult for recruitment, but with Engage, we’ve found people everywhere, from Norway to Brazil to India.

Barbara Bicskei
Studio Lead at UX studio

Seamlessly recruit and interview the ideal participants for your next research project with Hotjar Engage.

3. Use screener surveys to streamline the recruitment process  

Screener surveys are used to qualify (or disqualify) potential participants from your study. They let you get more granular with your requirements, filter for exactly what you need, and improve the efficiency of your user research—as well as the quality of your data.

After finding respondents who meet the key criteria you’ve outlined in the previous steps, you can use a screener survey to zoom in further or remove people who aren’t a good fit from your participant pool.

Here’s an example: say you’re building a platform that helps small-business owners create a website without coding knowledge. After selecting your main criteria, you might ask, “Do you have any experience with coding?” Disqualifying anyone who answers “Moderate experience” or above ensures you’ll discover how easy-to-use (or not) your platform really is for complete coding newbies.

Follow these tips for effective screener surveys:

  • Keep them short and simple. Longer surveys may discourage potential participants, while screening for not-strictly-necessary criteria can whittle down your participant pool too much. 

  • Avoid leading questions. Subtly guiding respondents towards specific answers can skew your data, as they may respond how they think they’re ‘supposed’ to. Instead of asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, give a range of responses to choose from.

  • Don’t ask questions you already have the answer to. For example, don’t use your screener for demographic information that you already have in your user interview tool. The exception is if it’s information that’s crucial to your study but which may have changed over time, such as location or educational status.

📋 Discover more tips for creating user research screeners here.

#Filter potential participants in Hotjar Engage by defining your criteria and using screener surveys to find your perfect match
Filter potential participants in Hotjar Engage by defining your criteria and using screener surveys to find your perfect match

4. Prioritize getting different perspectives

Your product will be used by a diverse range of people with varying needs and requirements, so your product research should reflect this, too. Feedback from a wide group of people fosters empathy in design, helping you spot things that could limit, or even negatively impact, the experience of others when using your final product—for example, a mega menu that’s almost impossible to navigate for colorblind users, or a feature name that means something totally different in local slang (😱).

That’s why it’s important to find people with an array of different backgrounds and experiences when recruiting research participants. Use a tool like Hotjar Engage, which has a built-in participant pool of over 200,000 people from all over the world, to get a range of perspectives that meet the specific needs of your research study. 

Look for variety across demographic factors like

  • Age

  • Gender identity

  • Geographic location

  • Education level

  • Ethnicity

  • Language

📚 Read more: capturing a diversity of experiences means ensuring your recruitment and interview processes have no barriers to access. In addition to going virtual, here are some more ways to make your user research more inclusive.

5. Sweeten the deal with incentives

You know what they say: time is money and/or gift cards.

If you’re struggling to recruit participants for your research study—for example, if you have niche audience requirements, busy target users (like CEOs), or lengthy research sessions—offering incentives can improve your response rate. 

Compensation can also reduce no-shows, ensuring all the hard work you did to prepare for your user research doesn’t go to waste. 

Finally, it’s also an empathetic way of showing appreciation for your participants’ time and effort (because who doesn’t like getting thanked for their contributions?).

To streamline the process and avoid introducing extra admin work for your researchers, look for a tool with a compensation functionality built in (like Hotjar Engage). This way, you can easily adjust the amount offered based on your budget and needs.

#Hotjar Engage makes compensating research participants effortless
Hotjar Engage makes compensating research participants effortless

Engage allows me to do my job—the research tasks—and not spend my time recruiting. [...] When it comes to compensation, I don’t have to think about it.

Zita Gombár
UX Researcher at UX studio

How UX studio finds the right research participants in days, not weeks

UI/UX design and research consultancy UX studio runs research projects at every stage of product development for clients like Netflix, Cisco, and HBO.

In the past, the team performed manual, time-consuming recruitment to find interviewees, scouring social media platforms and forums to find the right participants. But this recruitment process often took 2–3 weeks, and sucked up hours of their UX researchers’ valuable time.

UX studio needed a tool that could meet its three main requirements:

  1. Faster recruitment so that the team could focus on researching, not recruiting—and get quick results for clients 

  2. A global participant pool to facilitate projects spanning different countries and languages

  3. More precision to help them meet the specific requirements of B2B research needs, which were challenging to recruit for

They found the solution with Hotjar Engage. As a result 

✅ Recruitment time has decreased from 2–3 weeks to 1–2 days

✅ They can connect with a diverse range of participants from around the world

✅ They’re able to find the exact people they need across industry, role, and seniority

 📖 Read the full case study here.

Why inclusivity matters when recruiting participants

Improve your user recruitment process, improve your data

When it comes to research, your user recruitment sets the foundation for everything that’s to follow—including the quality of your results. Use the above tips to find right-fit participants that match your research criteria while also representing a diversity of viewpoints and experiences, and you’ll get accurate, insightful data that elevates your product, every time.

Recruit and interview the right people with Hotjar Engage

Streamline your entire participant recruitment process and unlock valuable insights from our global pool of interviewees.

FAQs about user research recruiting

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